Pilot Journal
Thursday, March 1, 2007

TBM 850 Scorching The Airways With Style

Meet Socata’s answer to the very light jet

tbm 850Whoa, the simulator at SimCom never accelerated like this! I’ve just advanced the throttle of N850LA, a brand-new EADS Socata TBM 850 with barely 100 hours, and I feel like I’ve floored the gas pedal in a candy-apple red 1969 Chevy Camaro with a big-block V8. Sure, the sound is different, but I’m pinned to my seat all the same." />

During a pilot’s flying career, there are always a few flights that stand out as notable and unforgettable. In the summer of 2006, I had one of those flights when I flew another even newer TBM 850 from the factory in southwest France across the North Atlantic to New York City via Wick, Scotland; Reykjavik, Iceland; Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland; Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada; and Bangor, Maine. On that flight, though I learned a lot about the aircraft in the 18-ish hours it took to get to New York, my interest was also piqued, as I became curious about how easy or difficult a formal transition to the TBM 850 would be for a typical high-performance/technically advanced aircraft-conversant (TAA) piston pilot like me. My experience? In the past few years, among the numerous aircraft I’ve flown for various stories, I’ve been through formal training on the Garmin G1000 and I’ve accumulated over 400 hours in the Cirrus SR22, with about 300 of those hours in 22s equipped with the Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit suite. So somewhere out over the Atlantic, I began to wonder, as I learned the lay of TBM land, has the time I’ve spent tooling around in high-performance/TAA given me a leg up for transition? See the accompanying sidebar for details of my SimCom experience, but for now, let’s go to France…

Having lived in Paris for two-and-a-half years, I always look forward to visiting France, and having never been to Gascony, I felt a palpable anticipation before my visit to EADS Socata in that region of France, famous for the epicurean delights of foie gras and Armagnac.

The TBM factory at the Tarbes airport is tucked away among lush farms, golden, rolling hills resembling Van Gogh’s The Harvest and towns like nearby Ossun, seemingly unchanged since medieval times. This region of France is achingly beautiful, and I’d highly recommend a factory visit for any TBM pilot.

Back at Socata, I discussed the TBM 850 with the ever-smiling Philippe de Segovia, Socata’s Director of Communications. “The TBM 850 is Socata’s answer to the VLJ, and it’s available now,” says Philippe. “We surveyed past and current TBM owners, and 90% wanted more speed and one-stop transcontinental range, from Los Angeles to Florida, for example. Our advantage is that that range and performance will come at a lower altitude, below airliner traffic, and at a lower direct operating cost than the typical VLJ. The TBM owner [the TBM is optimized for the owner/pilot] is feeding only one efficient and dependable Pratt & Whitney PT6A engine and maintaining an aircraft with simple, reliable and robust systems.”

Simple, reliable and robust—I’ll attest to that. As I saw on my tour of the assembly line, the TBM is constructed to be one stout airplane. And as I later learned at SimCom, the systems are free from the alchemy and complexity I expected before my turbine transition. The craftsmen at the factory are real artisans who work in the same roles and on the same parts year after year.

Labels: Turboprops


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